AHF Announces Release of Guide to MP in Washington

AHF Announces Release of Guide to MP in Washington

Guide to the Manhattan Project in Washington State

With Congressman Doc Hastings serving as chairman of the House committee responsible for national parks, prospects are very good that Congress will enact legislation to designate a Manhattan Project National Historical Park this year.

Just in time, the Atomic Heritage Foundation’s new Guide to the Manhattan Project in Washington State gives a preview of what the park at Hanford, WA might include, and provides information about related sites throughout the State.  Senator Maria Cantwell, a champion of the new park, said, “This guide will help current and future generations understand both the scientific contributions and enormous sacrifices made in Washington State for the war effort.”

To build Manhattan Project facilities, the Army Corps of Engineers acquired over 570 square miles in the Columbia Basin, roughly half the size of Rhode Island, almost overnight. The guide explains why the desolate, windy desert land nestled between the Cascade Mountains and the Bitterroot Range proved so attractive to Army officials.  When Colonel Kenneth “Fritz” Nichols first toured the area in December 1942, he quickly realized that it presented an ideal site to build the world’s first plutonium production plant.

The guide includes personal testaments to life in the secret installation. The Corps of Engineers speedily built hundreds of standardized “alphabet houses” to accommodate the influx of workers from across the country. With rows of identical houses, children often had a hard time finding their home. The DuPont Company signed on to manage the entire operation, from designing the reactor and other plants to building the sprawling industrial complex connected by 158 miles of railroad tracks. The Manhattan Project transformed the Tri-Cities area from small agricultural communities to bustling frontier towns. The Army’s development paved the way for Richland, Pasco, and Kennewick to become the large and economically successful cities they are today, proud of their seminal role in World War II.

The book describes the Hanford Engineer Works, as the site was known, and the enormous human capital involved.  Fifty thousand people worked on the construction alone, requiring eight mess halls that served an average of 19,500 meals. Producing plutonium at Hanford involved three major operations—fuel fabrication, reactor operations, and chemical separation to extract the plutonium---and countless innovations in technology.  Governor Chris Gregoire commented, “Like no other place, Hanford’s B Reactor serves as a monument to our nation’s ingenuity and determination.”

The guidebook highlights the challenges of designing these first-of-a-kind facilities. As David Nicandri, President of the Washington State Historical Society, said, “Wherever one stands on the use of nuclear weapons, Hanford represents a significant chapter in the history of engineering.”

Washington also turned out planes and ships and trained pilots. From the Boeing factory at Renton that produced the B-29 Superfortress (the planes that dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki), to Bremerton’s Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, to Pasco’s Naval Air Station, Washington was a major contributor to the nation’s success in World War II.                                                                                                              

Filled with colorful photographs and engaging stories, the guide provides an excellent overview to this fascinating chapter in Washington’s history. As Senator Patty Murray wrote for the book jacket, “Hanford and Washington State played a critical role in the Manhattan Project. We need to ensure that future generations can reflect on and learn from this history.”

The book is available from the Atomic Heritage Foundation’s store, Amazon, and museum stores in Washington State.

AHF would like to extend a special thanks to Crystal Trust and M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust for providing the funds for the development and publication of this book.